The way we do things around here [Part 1]

Today our Director Development Christian Kaas starts with a series of articles talking about “The way we do things around here” at LORENZ.

I recently read an interesting definition of organizational culture. Deal and Kennedy (1982) describe it quite simply as ‘the way we do things around here.’ This formulation appealed to me immediately because it seemed so straightforward. But at the same time, would it be easy to describe if someone actually posed the question to you about your own organization? How do you actually do things around here? In this post, I’ll try to answer this question and describe how things are really done at LORENZ.

Our mission statement is: Engineering the world’s most desirable e-regulatory solutions. This is what lays the foundation for our culture. This means crafting solutions while viewing our customers as people who have work challenges that they need to solve. It’s also about building solutions that address a specific challenge in the best way possible, even if this means investing extra time to come up with that optimal best solution.

At LORENZ, our solutions are much more than the actual software products.  Our solutions include the ability to embed these software products into your work environment (from both an IT and process perspective), as well as our consulting and all of the services around configuration, installation, validation and education. However in this series I will focus more specifically on the actual software products themselves, and try to highlight how we are “uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others to do it.” (The Agile Manifesto, 2001)

The Agile Manifesto
The Agile Manifesto is one of the most important guiding documents for the LORENZ Product Development Teams. In its 4 value statements, backed by 12 principles, you’ll find an accurate description of “the way we do things around here” at LORENZ.  Its introduction reads as follows:

“We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping
others do it. Through this work we have
come to value:

Individuals and interactions
over processes and tools;
Working software
over comprehensive documentation;
Customer collaboration
over contract negotiation; and
Responding to change
over following a plan.
That is, while there is value in the items
below, we value the items
above more.”

These are the values that drive the way we work. They form the foundation on which we have developed our culture and processes.

Let’s take some of the most important terms from this introduction to the Agile Manifesto and explore just what they mean.

“Uncovering” is a key term, because it shows that we don’t claim to know everything up front. The workflows we have developed are robust, but that doesn’t automatically mean we have reached the absolute ideal. We believe that we’re always on a path to finding better ways to work. Quality-oriented people might label this “continuous improvement process.”  And most people would agree that you can face this type of challenge in many different environments, whether you happen to develop software, or if you are working in Regulatory Affairs.

The underlying question becomes how do you actually do this? How do you systematically encourage people to “uncover better ways to work”? The second important phrase offers an insight to this . . .

By doing it
Plain and simple. We get better in developing software by actually developing software. You need to do it, and you need to learn by doing it. The teams that do the work know where and what to improve. Managers create the conditions that enable the improvements to happen.

At LORENZ we have institutionalized this approach. Our teams have both the right and the duty to uncover and implement improvements. We live according to this principle and have also documented it in our Process Handbook, signed by the Executive Board and all Line Managers:

“We acknowledge that no-one, not the Manager(s), nor the QA, tells the teams how to work in order to deliver a high quality product and service to our customers. However, using our product process experience, we clearly define what is part of a high quality and a most desirable solution” (LORENZ Process Handbook – Principle #4 self-organization)

In other words, at LORENZ we encourage our teams to select and use whatever practices best fit their context and, more importantly, to continuously inspect, adapt and improve their own methods of working. Implementing this mindset results in great value, but the manifesto also brings other interesting aspects with it.

If you read the value statements carefully, an important pattern emerges. The first part of each sentence always indicates a preference, while the latter part describes an item that, though still important, is of lesser priority. The term “over” underlines which considerations take priority over others, but the term intentionally does not imply “instead of”. In this way, the statements actually help provide clear guidance to the teams. It is easy to say “I want it all,” but often you have to decide which factor should take priority. These statements help us in making those decisions.

An example: We recognize the clear importance of processes and tools, but we believe that the interaction between our team members and our customers is of even greater importance. Similarly, comprehensive documentation is a good thing, but the primary focus must remain on delivering actual working software.

My next post will talk about the LORENZ Heartbeat and explain what the difference is between delivering working software and releasing software.


Christian KaasWritten by Christian Kaas, Director Development at LORENZ Life Sciences Group.

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